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Doug Gamble- Contributor

Doug Gamble is a former writer for President Ronald Reagan and resides in Carmel. [go to Gamble index]

The Battle for California
If Bush contests the state, a match-up with Kerry would be entertaining

[Doug Gamble] 2/5/04

Assuming Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry becomes the Democratic presidential nominee, his battle with President George W. Bush for California's 55 electoral votes could be so fierce the Red Cross better stock up on supplies of blue blood.

The state has not been up for grabs in a presidential election since 1988 when the first President Bush defeated Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis who, coincidentally, had Kerry as his lieutenant governor from 1982 to 1984. The latest Field Poll showed Bush with a 52 percent job-approval rating in the state in January, up from 46 percent last September.

What makes California look like the site of a political death match this time around is the fact the White House is determined to restore it to the Republican fold, after the party lost here in 1992, 1996 and 2000, while the Democrats are desperate to hang on to it. While Bush can win re-election without taking California, Kerry must capture the Golden State to have any chance of attaining the presidency. One person's pride is the other person's survival.

If the election is split in the rest of the country pretty much along the lines it was in 2000, as many pundits are now predicting, the nation may be holding its breath waiting for the results of an in-play California to decide the winner this November, rather than Florida.

The state GOP, buoyed by Arnold Schwarzenegger's victory in the gubernatorial recall election, is optimistic. Party Chairman Duf Sundheim puts it in meteorological terms saying, "The way I see it, we have weather reports. There's a wave coming in. It could be a big wave. And if it's the size we think it could be, it could be very good news for Republicans in California."

Bush will certainly be helped by having Schwarzenegger in the governor's office, not only because it fires up the GOP troops who are mostly now united, but because of the positive imagery of the president making joint appearances around the state with a governor who is popular even with many Democrats. Call it a reverse coattails effect.

There are two other components in Bush's favor. One is the Nader factor. Should the consumer crusader run for the presidency again as head of the Green Party ticket, he could do to Kerry in California what he did to Al Gore in Florida - siphon off enough votes to tip the results to Bush. With the Greens gaining higher visibility in the state through the recall election and a second-place finish in the high-profile San Francisco mayor's race, a Nader candidacy would appear to pose an increasing threat to the Democrats.

In addition, Bush could pick up more of the Latino vote than he did four years ago, depending on how his pro-immigration initiatives are received and the effectiveness of greater outreach to the Latino community.

He garnered only 28 percent of the California Latino vote in 2000, but he has a history of improving his standing with minorities. After disappointing results with Latinos and African-Americans when Bush ran for governor of Texas in 1994, he was re-elected in 1998 with 49 percent support from Latinos and 27 percent backing of African-Americans, unheard of figures for a modern-day Republican.

But the Democrats will not lose their grip on California without a fight worthy of pay-per-view. War hero Kerry is no Dukakis-in-a-tank doofus. His battling back from early oblivion in the Democratic field was impressive and he is starting to look increasingly presidential, Botox or not. And while Bush will try to portray him nationally as a liberal, California is a state where that's a compliment.

Anyone questioning how formidable Kerry can be need look only to his 1996 senate race against Massachusetts Gov. William Weld. It included seven debates featuring thrusts and parries worthy of Olympic-caliber fencers, with Kerry prevailing. Bush vs. Kerry shapes up as a classic scrap, and Californians will have front row seats.

Copyright 2004 Doug Gamble




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